Vagus Nerve Entrapment Causing Atrial Fibrillation with Tachycardia – Case Study

My theory: I have a Vagus Nerve Entrapment Causing Atrial Fibrillation with Tachycardia due to the reverse curve of my neck.

History:

I occasionally get A-fib with tachycardia – an irregular heartbeat with an increased heart rate. I believe these episodes are caused by a Vagus nerve entrapment. I started having episodes in my mid to late twenties. The medical diagnosis was that it was caused by a hyperactive thyroid. At the time, my entire metabolism was haywire. I was burning over 5000 calories a day at rest, not including exercise (measured through resting and active VO2 testing) and had lost over 20 pounds in less than two months. I would experience A-fib episodes that lasted 5-8 days (day and night).

Over the years, my thyroid has returned to normal function, but I continue to have A-fib episodes, although much briefer in duration (a few to less than 24 hours). I’ve seen endocrinologists and cardiologists. They don’t know the root cause and the only solutions they have been able to offer are either pharmaceutical drugs or surgery (ie pacemaker). I tried drugs. The side effects were untenable and I’m not willing to have invasive heart surgery when the doctors really don’t understand the cause of the condition. I’ve witnessed way too many people have these types of surgeries which either didn’t solve the “problem” and often made things worse.

These episodes are not comfortable. My nervous and cardiovascular systems are in a state of overload and stress. My heart is working 25-35% harder at everything I do. It basically feels like I’m running… when I’m sitting, lying down, and sleeping. Physiologically it feels like I’m having an anxiety or panic attack. Any kind of physical activity, such as climbing stairs or working out, immediately leaves me breathless and occasionally dizzy.

Reverse curve compared to posterior curveI also have a posterior or reverse curve to my cervical spine (as seen on x-rays). The cervical spine should have an anterior curve. This is a significant structural adaptation that has more than likely developed from my extensive injury history – concussions, whiplash injuries from multiple car and motorcycle accidents, knee surgeries, and many other injuries.

Vagus Nerve (a very rough overview)

The Vagus nerve (CN X) is a cranial nerve that is directly linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, playing a role in heart rate, respiration, and digestion. The Vagus nerve helps to down-regulate or slow down heart rate after the body goes through a sympathetic “fight or flight” response – ie the massive adrenaline rush after a scary situation. In our modern world, most of us are in a constant state of stress creating a low-level “fight or flight” response. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are constantly interacting with one another to maintain some semblance of homeostasis or balance.Vagus nerve

The Vagus nerve originates in the brainstem, traveling down through the neck (external to the spinal cord and spine). Since it travels outside the spinal cord, it is exposed to potential muscular, fascial, or structural entrapment.

My Theory

Due to the reverse curve in my neck, any kind of excess tension or restrictions in the muscle/fascia or vertebral position of the cervical region can occasionally entrap the Vagus nerve. If the Vagus nerve becomes entrapped, the electrical signals between the brain and heart (or respiratory and digestive systems) can become inhibited – ie experience some loss of signal. This loss of signal affects the balance between the conversation of sympathetic and parasympathetic related to heart rate and can cause heart rhythm irregularities. In my case, less signal to downregulate the heart rate which leads to an increased heart rate and arrhythmia.

Movement Session

Today, I am experiencing an episode of A-fib with tachycardia. There is also tension/restriction in my neck related to specific movement patterns. My focus of this session is to improve neck and spinal mobility through the combination of self-massage (using a Thera-cane and lacrosse ball) and Movement Therapy to free the Vagus nerve from entrapment. The past few times I’ve had an episode, this combination seemed to help resolve the arrhythmia pretty quickly.

When searching for the underlying root cause of a “problem”, it is easy to get into a game of the chicken or the egg. The “problem” is rarely ever found with just one simple solution. The human body is a complex system of complex systems. Each system is intricately connected to one another in a constant feedback loop. When one system isn’t working properly, it affects change and can cause other systems to stop working properly, which then feeds back into the larger system, wreaking havoc. This is just one theory that I am playing around with in my movement practice.

8 Replies to “Vagus Nerve Entrapment Causing Atrial Fibrillation with Tachycardia – Case Study”

  1. Interesting! I have similar problems… I’m working with an Orthopedic, I think my vagus nerve is getting pinched by my clavicle but I think it’s either ribs or something wrong in/around my left shoulder at the root cause.
    I had a physical therapist try to adjust my 1st & 2nd ribs a few times and I swear I was going to die on the table. My heart rate jumped up to 150+ so that’s why I’m fairly confident ribs are at least part of the cause, but what’s pushing the ribs into my clavicle, right?! My scapula? Ugh. Using my left arm in any way or even just getting it tense/tightened just simply by stress escalates my heart rate over 100. I take muscle relaxers & Tylenol daily to keep myself sane. Laying down and turning my head left seems to help calm the nerve & heart rate along with the drugs and using ice on my neck, upper shoulder & clavicle, and deep breathing. But it’s truly maddening… if you fix yourself, please let me know what actually does it! Thanks!! And Good Luck!!

  2. I have the same problem. Twenty years ago a chiropractor violently twisted my neck to the left then back to the right several times. Everyone in the room heard the sounds it made. Within hours I was in the emergency room with a heartbeat of 145, difficulty breathing, dizziness and blurred vision. Gradually the severity of the symptoms diminished but I still have problems to this day. Like the lady above I also ice my neck several times a day (frozen peas and elastic bandage). When I start feeling like my finger is in a light socket I take a muscle relaxant. I have seen several doctors about this and only two have come to correct conclusions in my opinion. One agreed quickly with the gentleman writing the article, namely that the vagus nerve is being pinched and is unable to down regulate the heart. Another specialist I saw in China said that when the chiropractor twisted my neck so violently it stretched the ligaments which now allow the vertebra to move. This instability triggers nerve involvement. Either way the symptoms are really life altering. I have tried everything imaginable (easy sine my wife was a doctor) but the only things that help consistently are ice or a muscle relaxer (Flexerol 5-10mg) Good luck everyone. Do the best you can with what we have.

    1. Hi Charles,

      Thank you for your comment. I am sorry to hear about your experience. Unfortunately, it is a far too common one.

      Since I originally made this post, I’ve experienced a significant improvement in symptoms with my movement practice as the only therapeutic intervention. I posted an update to this post on our Youtube channel “Neck Mobility Vagus Nerve Flossing – Movement Therapy – Feb 04, 2021“.

      I have a theory that, if you are experiencing a vagus nerve impingement, then you would see significant and meaningful improvement in your symptoms. I would love to have an opportunity to chat with you in person. Would you be open to scheduling an online consultation? As a Gift Economy practitioner, I do not charge for consultations. You can schedule an online consult here (https://theartoffitness.fullslate.com/services/537?start=4803).

      I look forward to chatting with you soon.
      Jesse James

  3. My husband fell on the slippery ice next to his vehicle one night, landed on his left shoulder and never went to the doctor to have it looked at, instead let time heal it where he can use his arm and shoulder without pain now, but has restriction, popping, and loss of strength. His shoulder looks different that the other one in that he looks to have torn something so there is a space at the top of the ball and socket joint and the shoulder appears more square and narrow. His right side of his back and ribs are hunched outward and his shoulders are not even with each other. He started experiencing AFIB around the same timeframe and it has continued daily for two years so far. I think it’s directly related to the fall and want him to go to a chiro, just don’t know if anyone is good enough for this diagnosis. Any suggestions in MInnesota?

  4. Seventeen years ago, as I was exercising, I had a neck injury, two slipped discs and seven years later serious spinal cord impingement in two places. I had surgery with two level discectomy with bone fusion. On x-ray, I saw my neck was straight instead of curved as it should be. I was told it will never go back to what it was before the accident. I use muscle relaxers when tension in my neck and lower back will not relax. What interested me in your article is seeing this x-ray. Moreover, for many years I have suffered with chronic constipation. I do see a chiropractor who is wonderful for me. After trying almost everything made by God and man to relieve the constipation, I began to look further. I began to research nerve conduction, or rather lack of it, in my colon. I talked with an orthopedist who I saw for chronic lower back pain caused by scoliosis. He told me he didn’t think a nerve impingement was the cause, as usually a nerve problem in the lower back would cause loose stools, not constipation. I spoke with my chiropractor, and he has adjusted others with similar issues with great success. However, his adjustments did not solve my problem. I researched more about the vagus nerve. I really believe there is a connection. About seven years ago, I had an abnormally slow heart rate with low-normal blood pressure. Doctors were not concerned. In the last few months, my blood pressure has gone sky high with a normal heart rate. I have never had an issue with blood pressure ever before in my life. I would like to learn more, and wonder if a vagus nerve impingement in my neck could cause these problems.

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